Great Minds – and Great Minders – Think Alike

BillGates Great Minds   and Great Minders   Think Alike

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Bill Gates

Bill Gates is the tech world’s original enfant terrible, a Harvard dropout whose obsessive focus and vision built Microsoft. He is the role model for the tech entrepreneurs of today, with their unshakeable faith in the power of technology to make everything better, for everyone, everywhere.

But Gates, the richest man in the world, sees a bigger picture now. His foundation spends or gives away $4 billion a year for global humanitarian and philanthropic work. And in a long interview with the Financial Times last week, Gates threw shade on his acolytes and the industry-serving causes they espouse – among them, internet connectivity for the world’s least fortunate. “As a priority, it’s a joke,” Gates said. “Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine?”

Gates’ “minders” called the interviewer afterward to walk back the remarks, hoping to stifle a kerfluffle instigated by the “senior statesman of the tech and philanthropic worlds.” That is, after all, what PR people are paid to do. But in this case, they needn’t have. Gates’ remarks were in character and on target. No apology needed.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Bill Gates for speaking his mind and to his flack for a gentle touch.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In PR, it’s a tightrope walk between minding and meddling. Flacks, especially for C-suite types, must learn to toe it without a net. Some of the sharpest brains in business seem to abandon all discretion when speaking to the press. On the other hand, an insecure flack who hovers officiously makes everyone nervous, and ironically, can create an interview environment ripe for the execu-gaffe. PR is, at its heart, a business of relationship management and trust, in multiple directions at once. An effective “handler” knows when to let the client or boss run the line and when to reel it in, without digging a hook in too deep.

Pelosi Makes Old News, New News

Screen Shot 2013 05 20 at 7.14.18 AM 139x150 Pelosi Makes Old News, New NewsNot everyone likes Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. That much is clear. She is described by the Financial Times as “a kind of liberal piñata for Republicans,” and “a ready-made hate-figure for conservatives.” She recently gave an interview to the paper in its informal weekend format, Lunch with the FT.  Was this interview an attempt to set the record straight? An informal make over?

There are many reasons to give interviews to the media. Sometimes it’s to make an announcement, to launch and idea, or to set the record straight. Sometimes it is to simply make your case again. Nancy Pelosi, at the age of 73, gave her lunch interview to the Financial Times with one key message: business as usual.

What’s noteworthy about the interview is that there is no new PR messaging and no real news. Given her age and her congressional seniority the key takeaways were that she remains a defiant and unapologetic liberal (“proudly so”) and that she continues in her role as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, a task of endless complication. Described as “brutally effective” in her role, the FT claims Obama’s “signature legislative achievements such as healthcare reform would have never become law” without her. At this point in her tenure, the need to establish a base and to outreach with new messaging now seems to be behind her.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Nancy Pelosi and an interview that was more of the same.

The PR Takeaway: Simply staying on track can be the message. What’s noteworthy about this article is how little new ground it breaks. Pelosi’s messaging is exactly as one might have expected but packaged in an interview format that revolves around an informal lunch, makes the messaging sounds less political and self promotional. In PR, if you want to make your point but don’t have anything new to say, change the venue and the format and keep the messaging on track. What is old news can pass as new news.

Candy’s Bad PR Aftertaste

Nick Candy 150x150 Candys Bad PR Aftertaste

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Nick Candy and his PR image.

Nick Candy, described by the Financial Times as London’s “property tycoon,” agreed to be the subject for this weekend’s column Lunch with the FT. The article is ideally an opportunity for the subject to show a less rehearsed, more informal side. So what did Candy talk about? “Fast cars, famous friends, and the super-wealthy,” said the article’s intro. Too bad Candy forgot that no one likes a side of showoff with lunch.

As one half of the property developing team of Candy and Candy, Nick, with brother Christian, is changing the face of London real estate. Their latest project, One Hyde Park, is host to Russian oligarchs and the most expensive real estate in the world. Critics abound when it comes to the brothers. The chief accusation? Parvenu namedroppers who have struck lucky and whose love of publicity borders on the maniacal.

Candy responds in the interview that while he and his brother care about the brand of Candy and Candy, they surprisingly pay little attention to the PR strategy. The brand, he claims, is about luxury, and as if to prove it, Candy relentlessly drops names during the interview. Among them is FT’s own editor Lionel Barber, who he describes as a “friend.” He mentions attendance at Davos and outlines his coming week of global travel. The article ends with an embarrassing aftertaste: after the lunch, Barber informs the journalist that he barely knows Nick Candy.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Nick Candy and his firm’s PR image. A tough PR lesson learned the hard way.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Gravitas beats brashness. For a major international property developer, this was an embarrassing article, and being caught out by the editor of the Financial Times was the final coup de grace. In tone and content, this entire interview misfired. For two brothers who started as brash developers, they now need to craft a PR image that is more trustworthy. The absence of any clear messaging in the interview was clear. Candy’s admission that they pay no attention to press and PR strategy might just be the unexaggerated admission in an interview sure to prompt more criticism – and indigestion.

To read the interview, click here.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

mike mayo2 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR Perfect) to Mike Mayo (left) a financial analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities, for his perfectly crafted soundbite regarding beleaguered banking giant Citigroup. Mayo, well known on Wall Street, was opining on the reasons for the startling resignation of  Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mayo was crisp, concise, and so very on-point when he said, “Citi is too big to fail, too big to regulate, too big to manage, and it has operated as if it’s too big to care.” Zing!


taliban21 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Taliban, which sunk to new lows by targeting media outlets that denounced their murder attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who wants education for women. Apparently, the Taliban is furious that Yousafzai’s “un-Islamic” behavior hasn’t been presented in the press – as though that would justify her being shot in the face for wanting to go to school. Worried about the PR fallout in their own domestic markets, it’s gratifying to observe that even Islamo-Fascists worry about public perception. The Taliban in need of a rebrand; who would have thought? And where to begin?


brad pitt chanel 0 150x150 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

THE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” PR AWARD: The undisputed winner this week is fashion house Chanel, which has enlisted Brad Pitt for its new advertising campaign for its venerable fragrance, Chanel No.5. According to the PR blurb, the 30-second ad is meant to re-energize the 91-year-old brand with a “different point of view,” i.e., using a man to sell a fragrance for women. The commercial features Brad looking like he was plucked from a homeless shelter and saying, “The world turns, and we turn with it. Plans disappear, dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are. My luck. My fate. My fortune. Chanel No. 5. Inevitable.”  The only inevitable thing about this commercial is that no one will have the faintest idea about what he is talking about. Truly and inevitably puzzling. To see the ad, click here.

Did we miss any spectacular highs or lows in public relations this week? Give us your PR Verdict!

When It Comes to PR, Mike Tyson’s No Pigeon

Mike Tyson Kissing Pigeon2 150x150 When It Comes to PR, Mike Tysons No Pigeon

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mike Tyson and a comeback that gives the public a new way to think about him.

Boxer Mike Tyson recently told the Financial Times (FT) that by the age of thirteen, he had been arrested no less than 38 times. His life was one chaotic downward spiral. A rape charge led to him serving three years in prison; he ran through a $400 million fortune; there were endless drugs, arrests, more arrests, and then, the coupe de grace: biting off Evander Holyfield’s earlobe. How to stage a PR comeback from all of THAT?

Tyson pinpoints the exact moment he became the “baddest man on the planet.” At fifteen years of age, bullied relentlessly (hard to imagine), and a lover of pigeons (even harder), Mike Tyson had one of his prized pigeons killed by a taunting bully. Tyson fought back, and from that moment, his descent into one helluva scary guy was guaranteed.

Tyson’s second epiphany, this one leading in a different direction, occurred much later. Tired of sleeping with a never-ending procession of prostitutes and having multiple STDs, he turned to veganism as a route to good health.

The former ear-biting prizefighter now speaks publicly about his non-meat eating lifestyle, and his love of pigeons. “My pigeons, they were there for me,” he says. “They’ve never let me down. Easier than people.” The world got its first incredulous glimpse of the kinder, gentler Tyson in his reality show Taking On Tyson, and again in his sold-out one-man Broadway show, The Undisputed Truth, directed by Spike Lee. The Mike Tyson of yesterday has turned the page and is writing a whole new chapter.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mike Tyson and a comeback that gives the public a new way to think about him.

The PR Takeaway:  Turning the page is best explained by a personal epiphany. In PR terms, it explains clearly the what and why of a seminal moment. Fighting a bully made him realize his own power. One too many prostitutes made him realize that salvation lay in veganism. The constant throughout it all? His love of pigeons. Apparently, Tyson was the misunderstood gentle giant. Now even the Financial Times wants to write about him. Who would have thought? Now watch the endorsement contracts come through.

To read more about Tyson, his turnaround, and his pigeons, click here.

Is Mike Tyson a canny PR manipulator, or is the public feasting on his foibles? Give us your PR verdict!

Lunch with Werner Erhard: Why the Disappointment?

wernererhard24 171x300 Lunch with Werner Erhard:  Why the Disappointment?

PRVerdict: “C” for Werner Erhard.

Lunch with the famous Werner Erhard!  The founder of EST, Landmark Education and America’s most famous personal development guru just gave his first interview in many years.  His choice?  The Financial Times and Saturday’s “Lunch with the FT” slot,  written by the notoriously sharp Lucy Kellaway.  The purpose?  To discuss Erhard’s latest work, developed with Harvard economist Michael Jensen, about the nature of integrity and how it applies in the business world.  Erhard says expansively,  “I want people to know that most suffering in their lives is the product of out-of-integrity behavior”.

Kellaway in her write up veered between portraying Werhard as exhausting and draining and  then, most tellingly, a poor listener.  Mistakenly calling her “Suzie” during the interview Erhard introduced an exercise from one of his training sessions as the interview seemed to flag.  The result was more than a hint of irritation from his luncheon companion.

This was a tough lunch and probably better done as a team, with his associate Jensen on hand to have provided some balance.  Not only would it have reduced straying into Erhard’s checkered and much previously discussed personal history, but it may have served as a brake on Erhard using workshop techniques on a seemingly reluctant journalist .

The PR  Verdict:  “C” for Werner Erhard.  For a thought leader with much to say and contribute, this was a disappointment.  This interview got lost in distractions.

PR Takeaway:  Make your point by giving examples and make them easy.  This interview lacked solid illustrations as to how an absence of integrity was the genesis for some of the more recent seismic scandals to have hit the corporate world.  With Erhard’s colleague Michael Jensen, previously one of the more vocal advocates of aligning management interests with stock options, an analyisis of Enron, Tyco and the 2008 financial crisis might have been a good place to start.  It might also have postponed Erhard’s one-on-one workshop with Lucy Kellaway to a later date.

To read the interview click here

What your PR Verdict on Werner Erhard’s interview?

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